Pedestrian Deaths On The Rise In Charlotte. What The City Is Trying To Do About It

Nov 26, 2018

When you hear reports of people dying on Charlotte’s streets, it’s often the result of gun violence. But automobiles are also killing a lot of people, according to safety engineer Angela Berry. She works with Charlotte’s Department of Transportation.

“At 20 miles per hour, nine out of 10 pedestrians will survive a crash with a motor vehicle,” Berry said. “If you double that number to 40 miles per hour, only one out of ten pedestrians will survive a crash with a motor vehicle.”

Pedestrian deaths are on the rise in Charlotte. In 2017, motor vehicles struck and killed a record 27 people in the city. There have been 25 pedestrian deaths so far this year.

Berry runs the city’s Vision Zero program, which aims to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030. She spoke with “All Things Considered” host Mark Rumsey.

Mark Rumsey: Pedestrian deaths, at least over the last couple of years, would be averaging out somewhere in the neighborhood of one death every other week. That’s disturbing.

Angela Berry: Very disturbing. Very concerning. It's also a part of the reason that we feel now is the right time for us to adopt Vision Zero and, as a community, work towards that goal of zero by 2030.

Rumsey: Well, what's going on here? Is this the result of just more people and more cars on Charlotte streets or do you see other factors?

Berry: I wish I had an easy answer to that question. I do think there is a portion of the factor that has to do with the fact that we just simply have more people here in the city. I wish I had a direct correlation that I could make.

Rumsey: Well, I do notice in searching around a bit that there are some significant increases going on elsewhere. In Georgia, for example, as of June of this year, the state [Department of Transportation] was reporting a 16 percent increase in pedestrian deaths from the same time in the previous year. So it's not just here.

Berry: No, it's not. And I appreciate you doing that research and finding out that it is not unique in this in this crisis. It really does occur and is occurring in in cities both similar to ours as well as those smaller and larger than us across the country.

What has been really encouraging is while we've been looking at these Vision Zero efforts in other cities and learning from them, and as we develop our own action plan, we are seeing some of those cities having real success with bringing their numbers down. So, we're hopeful that by looking at their policies and their strategies and emulating them where they fit for us as a city, that we'll also see those numbers decrease on our side.

Rumsey: How are other cities doing that achieving that?

Berry: Los Angeles has implemented at one of their highest pedestrian crash locations something called a “scramble phase.” We haven't quite achieved a scramble phase yet. So, a scramble would be where the pedestrian can pretty much cross any direction — including diagonally — while all the traffic is held red.

What we have implemented in a few select locations is what we call an “all pedestrian phase” so that pedestrians can cross the crosswalks — but not diagonally — while the traffic is held red. A few of those are in Plaza Midwood, as well as one on the east side of town at Milton on The Plaza.

Rumsey: Does the transportation department, the city, look at actual pedestrian injury or death locations as far as determining where some changes may need to be made?

Berry: We know we've gone through quite an extensive mapping effort of mapping out what we're calling our “high injury network” that shows where the fatal and serious injury crashes have occurred over the last five years. It's been informative in that a few of those locations that we've mapped out, we actually already had pedestrian improvements in the works in the design phase for those locations.

Rumsey:  Are there any correlations that you can point to? I believe there's been some suggestion that even in terms of neighborhoods income level there may be some correlation. Have you seen any data along those lines?

Berry: We have seen data along those lines.

The majority of the high injury network — I think it was 66 percent of our high injury network — falls within those communities that have those factors. So, zero vehicle households living below the poverty level and minority communities. There’s definitely a correlation there that we're seeing our fatal and serious injury crashes happening more often in those communities.

Rumsey: And how is that impacting the city's strategy to try to tackle this overall problem?

Berry: We are making sure we're taking that into account as we apply the resources that we have to making improvements across the city. If that's where the resources are needed — when we do those evaluations, we are going to look and see if this particular request or particular instance happens to be on the high injury network and in one of those communities of concern. Then that project might rank higher for proceeding forward at that time then another project might.